The word moist, reminiscent of soggy underwear and crotch rot, is one of the world's most phonetically displeasing words. Ask your friends what they think of the word and watch them grimace. Better yet, Google it, if you don't believe me. As the title of its new erotica exhibition, this makes Orange County Center for Contemporary Art (OCCCA) either the bravest gallery in town, or one badly in need of a better marketing team.
Curator Ginger Shulick Porcella is open about the lack of imagination and the overabundance of objectification in the works submitted during the gallery's open call. While this seems a bit of front-loading on her part to avoid the inevitable criticisms, she's done a respectable job of pruning out those offenders, and there are more than a handful of pieces in the show that have frisson, intelligence and a sense of humor. While there are too many derivative vaginal images—oysters, pomegranates and other yoni variations we've seen a dozen times before—the good thing is that it's a quick in and out.
Pun absolutely intended.
The best in show are a painting and two photographs: Tissue Box, a black-and-white photo from Marc Kelly, is elegant and multilayered, its single Kleenex poking from the box, stiff and at attention, the rippling paper suggesting vaginal folds as well as adolescent memories of soggy clean-ups. In her artist's notes on the baroque-influenced Flood of Hope, Hadieh Afshani explains that her painting should be interpreted as a commentary on immigration, but the dimly-lit bedroom, light glowing under the door, the (as yet) unmade bed, and the glimpse of a woman's reflection caught in the dresser mirror also offers us a solitary image of pre-coital anticipation and tension. Last, but not least, the yellow-framed triptych Slippery When Wet by Jenalee Harmon, a series of three of the same photo, rising from large to small, of a befoamed hand losing a bar of soap in an ejaculating arc of white is fairly brilliant.
Ericka Hoffman's video Thank You, Come Again is a brilliantly edited documentation of a painting titled Relic. A pink canvas with a hole in the center—the painting wouldn't have received a mention from me because it seems so obvious, but the video's splooge of acrylic (accompanied by the sound of goo splatting on paper), the fingering and smoothing of the paint around the hole like some glorious rim job, all intercut with hands moving behind an opaque shower curtain, is surprisingly hot.
Penis reveals itself in a handful of pieces: Cindy Jackson's massive polyurethane male nude sculpture SexMan, inexplicably sans erection, despite a condom; Courtney Gordon's clever Anthony Weiner Dick Pic Portrait, a collage of tiny penises creating a portrait of the serial sexter and former U.S. representative. Matthew Conway's trio of photorealistic, color-penciled hipster male nudes are a real find: Tattoos, socks or shoes left on, unfortunate haircuts, facial hair and a variety of different body shapes honors men often ignored by mainstream aesthetes.
In the weird category, Adrian Cox's Whistler with Flowers ventures into Clive Barker/David Lynch/David Cronenberg territory with its portrait of a male body with a misshapen Joseph Merrick head, idly fingering a vaginal gash in his abdomen as nature explodes lushly from his shoulder and the area where his genitals should be. Christie Blizard's Portraits and Plastic #2 of the artist lying nude in the middle of a forest, a plastic bag over her head painted so that she resembles an abandoned fuck doll, is lovely, serene and more than a little bit terrifying. J Frias' oil painting Abandon is of a used condom tossed on the ground, a surprisingly poignant reminder of forgotten passion. Allison Baker's video Tiffany's is a clunky block necklace sculpted out of cream that dissolves and streams down a woman's bare shoulders like the world's messiest pearl necklace.
Shannon Willis' video and sculpture site-specific installation Clusterf#ck doesn't really belong in this exhibition. A woman with her face in a water pan, accompanied by shots of waves crashing and feet walking through surf, reflected and projected through layers of plastic sheeting and fabric, it's mesmeric, but aside from the literal representation of “moist,” it has nothing to do with the show's theme.
The work described above is the best the gallery has to offer, and it's more than a little disappointing that the remaining work isn't adventurous or arousing enough to give the show more of a bang. The best work here isn't about pubes and tits or spurting body fluids; it's about suggestion, what we don't see, with the lascivious pleasure centers of our brains filling in the gory details. That so few of the artists in the show “get” that is no surprise, but in the end it's the difference between Georgia O'Keeffe and Hustler's Beaver Hunt.
Dave Barton has written for the OC Weekly for over twenty years, the last eight as their lead art critic. He has interviewed artists from punk rock photographer Edward Colver to monologist Mike Daisey, playwright Joe Penhall to culture jammer Ron English.